Monday, September 15, 2014

Darkness and Light in Blake

William Blake was unlike most poets and artists of his time. Rather than using one medium of creativity, he mixed poetry and art into a cohesive practice. His poems were coupled with images that he felt were necessary to understand them. This allowed for his work to have more dimensions, as he could use color and repeating images to emphasize themes throughout his poetry. The use of dark and light color in “The Little Boy Lost” and “The Little Boy Found” may show that Blake wanted viewers to understand his belief that God was the sole source of good in what he considered a dark and dismal world.
The two poems address the same themes as they are very obviously part of the same narrative. They reveal the struggle of a small boy who has lost his father figure and is subsequently rescued by him. The Lost poem states the beginning of this story, while the Found poem reveals an ending where the little boy is found by a gentle God who returns him to his mother. Accompanying these poems are images which serve to enrich their scope and meaning. In the first image, the little boy is running through a darkened forest with his arms outstretched. In the next image, he is seen holding the hand of a glowing figure.
What is most interesting about the color in these images is not their brilliance or abundance, but their placement in the paintings. Yellow and white are used to portray light. These colors are only found concentrated around the God figure in the Found image. In the image associated with the Lost poem, the light appears to be shining from beyond the border of the painting. The fact that the boy is reaching out toward this light indicates that its source is God as well.
Light originates from no other place in the painting. The first image shows that the forest in the background is in darkness, the only light shining from the God figure off to the side. Light is only reflected off of God onto the surrounding trees and the little boy’s face. This deliberate limiting of the light supports the argument that Blake saw God as the sole source of light in his world. The Found poem also has the line, “the night was dark no father was here,” which suggests that the presence of the father, God, is associated with light. Blake’s intentional placement of this light could suggest that he wished viewers to identify God with what light symbolizes.
In literature, light is used to symbolize a number of different concepts. Most often it represents the ideal of good, which Blake would have understood in Christian terms as that which is morally right. It also is frequently used to represent knowledge or enlightenment. By using the light colors in close association with the God figure, Blake may have been communicating that he believed God to be the source of all that is good in the world. The lack of light in his absence seems to suggest this as well. The Lost image could also be interpreted as representing mankind’s search for goodness and knowledge, as it features the boy reaching out toward the light and seeking its origin.
While seeking the light, the boy is obviously afraid of the darkness, which is represented by the colors black, dark blue, and gray . This correlates to the traditional use of darkness as a symbol, as evil and ignorance are most often connected to darkness in literature as well as art. The Bible, a book which Blake was very aware of, also makes frequent use of this symbolic tool. The dark forest that surrounds the little boy is representative of the world at large. Blake sees it as a dark place, lacking the enlightenment and goodness that he claims to have found in God.
The theme of God providing solace in a broken world is not unprecedented in Blake’s work. Many of his poems and images deal with the character and worship of God. Using the light and dark as symbols in his images allowed Blake to communicate a spiritual message pertaining to all people. Rather than looking at the face value of “The Little Boy Lost” and “The Little Boy Found,” viewers should understand that the poems construct a metaphor for what God provides to all people.  
             Blake’s placement of light and dark in these images emphasized his belief that God is the
primary source of good within the world. Using these symbolic colors allowed his viewers to see
beyond his written words to the work’s deeper significance. His words detail a little boy reuniting
with his mother after being lost, but the images open up the door for interpretations regarding all 
mankind’s search for enlightenment.


  1. I agree with most of your explanations. One where I was unsure was saying God was in the first image. God isn't brought up in the text until the second image and only the father is described in the first image. It sort of looks like a white figure, but why did Blake set it up this way? Also, there could be a connection between the father leaving and the nurturing mother was the one who saved the child.

  2. Your intro could be trimmed, but the thesis is good.

    Re: the 2nd paragraph - granted that God is often address as "father," but is the "father figure" the same as God here? I'd argue that we are moving from a literal to metaphoric father across the two poems, which is important.

    Over the next several paragraphs your strengths and weaknesses are really one. On the plus side, you remain focused on the role of light in the images, and what that role means. On the minus side, you belabor/repeat that point instead of developing it or (maybe even better) questioning it.

    One question I have is: are we confident that we're dealing with God's light in both images? In the second one, clearly we are. But what about the first? While I'm not totally sold one way or the other, there's something very different about the first image - the notes at the back of our book refer to the light as emanating from a "will o' the wisp" rather than from God, which seems like a sane reading.

    My point is that Blake may be interested in true and false light here - which I would connect with the absence of the father in the first poem and the prescence of God in the 2nd. Another minor point - are you really sure that all the light in the second poem comes from God? I feel like the child himself is luminous, which is interesting.

    So: this is good because you have a clear, articulate argument, and are beginning to work with details. It's problematic because you repeat yourself rather than working with the details which raise further questions and problems, rather than just neatly fitting your argument. Remember, we *want* to work with the difficulties - at the end of the day, working through problems is what makes you really convincing.